How to Prepare a Questionnaire on Any Topic

Updated August 28, 2019

If you have a question about a process or product that needs to be answered cheaply and effectively, a questionnaire may be the best solution. Perhaps schedule and funding restraints mean that you won’t have the time or money for user testing. Questionnaires and surveys are excellent ways to gather a lot of data without using too many working hours or spending too much money.

Considerations When Beginning a Questionnaire

When you set out to use a questionnaire, you should be aware that they are an excellent way to gain both qualitative and quantitative data, but they also have pitfalls. For example, participants might answer a multiple-choice question without actually reading it thoroughly.

This is why there should be a place on every questionnaire for a participant to leave comments or questions even if the choices provided seem straightforward. Not every question needs a clarifying question, but an overall comment would add some context to your participant’s answers.

Using a questionnaire or a survey can give you clear direction, provided they are prepared and administered correctly. When questionnaires are misused, you could find yourself flooded with data points that can’t be understood or extrapolated.

Topics for a Questionnaire

One of the easiest ways to get quick responses when doing research is to write a questionnaire. Depending on your company, you may have a robust group working on user-experience research, or you may only have yourself. If you are new to writing questionnaires, then you may not know where to begin.

You should have a theme around your questionnaire. In other words, “what is this about?” In most cases, this can be called an “ask.” The theme of your questionnaire should be sorted around the primary ask.

For instance, your primary ask may be: “Marketing wants to know consumer thoughts about a particular logo.” In this case, your theme would be looking at the logo. It tells you exactly what data needs to be gathered, namely which logo the customer prefers and why.

Simplicity Is Key

When developing a questionnaire, keep it simple and specific. None of the questions should stray from your needs: in this example, the logo. Your participants should be able to quickly scan a question and answer it without too much thought or deliberation.

Even if your ideal participants are all college educated, keep your items in basic language and only as complex as they need to be. You only care about the data collected. Make that data as easy to obtain as possible.

Rewording the Questions

When it comes to important questions, be sure to reword things a few different ways. This isn’t to catch the participant in a falsehood. Instead, it serves to change the participant’s frame of reference.

Even if the question seems straightforward, it may not be for certain readers. In this way, allowing the participants to see the question reworded may help find the best answer from each member of your audience.

Administration of a Questionnaire

How are you going to administer your questionnaire? Some companies have this outsourced to a third party that selects participants in the correct demographic and administers questionnaires or surveys. Smaller companies often do not have this luxury.

You can also use products like Google forms and administer the survey over social media platforms such as Instagram. Be sure the type of delivery matches the focus group you are targeting to optimize your results.

Questionnaire Examples to Consider

There are several types of questionnaires, ranging from those conducted via a computer to those done in house and even those completed by mail. Consider the following pros and cons of each questionnaire format.

Using Computer Questionnaires

When using computer-based surveys, you can use social media, email or even your website to share a link to your questionnaire. The benefit of this method is that you can get an extremely wide participant pool and a large volume of answers. However, you cannot monitor participants while they are taking these questionnaires.

When you cannot monitor a participant, you will have to budget more time to review the completed questionnaires. You should go into this process with the understanding that you will lose at least some of your responses due to things like unfinished forms, misunderstood directions or internet issues.

To avoid too many lost responses, you should monitor where the participant got the link to your questionnaire. Use the ability to track origin points to find out what delivery method works best. This can guide you in future survey work.

Using In-House Questionnaires

Inviting participants into your office or a third-party location allows you to monitor the process of the questionnaire. It also allows you to answer any questions that the participants may have. Sometimes, in-house questionnaires are combined with an in-person interview of the participants to get more in-depth insight about their opinions. If you are administering any survey in house and have follow-up questions, make sure that you avoid any turns of phrase that could be seen as leading.

For instance, “Tell me why you preferred choice A to B” is a leading statement unless it was specifically asked in the questionnaire. Instead, try “Could you elaborate on your thought process on point 3?” This, by contrast, is not a leading question, as it focuses on the participant’s thought process instead of the object of the questionnaire.

Traditional Survey Methods

In the past, researchers had to rely on telephone questionnaires and those sent via postal mail. There can be some benefit to telephone interviews, particularly when you can share a computer screen with participants and discuss their impressions at the moment. Traditional telephone questionnaires can be complicated, however, because people are less likely to answer the phone than they once were and may not be receptive to speaking with you.

In areas where internet service is spotty or does not exist, telephone and postal mail questionnaires might be your only options. You should always include a postage-paid envelope for the participant to return the questionnaire if you are sending it by mail. Doing so, though, makes mail-in options time consuming to prepare and expensive to conduct.

How to Write Survey Questions

A good survey question should focus only on the theme or "ask" of your study. Your questions should also be direct and not leave much open for interpretation. You cannot get very in-depth responses from a participant in a survey, and this is particularly true of any methods that are not in house. A good survey or questionnaire question should only take a moment to scan and should not require your participant to deliberate much.

Examples of Good Survey Questions

Some great survey questions might be:

  • Does image A make you think of [brand]? What else does image A make you think of?

  • Which image do you prefer, A or B? Please explain why.

  • Which statement do you think is better, A or B? Please discuss your reasons.

Note that these questions each have two parts. The first is a multiple-choice, closed-ended question. The second sentence is asking for the participant’s thought process in making that first choice. Sometimes, you will get participants who will not answer the open-ended questions. Depending on your needs, you may or may not be able to keep those surveys when you are compiling your results.

Your reasons for conducting a questionnaire or survey should be to get a snapshot of a particular question. Once you have your responses, they should be arranged in an easy-to-scan page that anyone in your company can review in a few minutes. Once your data is compiled, you should easily be able to focus on more in-depth studies to find out more about your own assumptions.

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About the Author

Danielle Smyth is a content writer and social media marketer from upstate New York. Her company, Wordsmyth Creative Content Marketing, services clients in a variety of industries.